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I ♥ my accountant

Ten questions to help find your perfect partner

Is the accountant qualified? Look for the words 'chartered' or 'certified'.

How many partners are there? As a rule, choose a practice comparable in size to your business. "If you're a small business, choose a small practice. They'll be more empathetic, cheaper and be familiar with your problems," says Clive Lewis, head of SME issues at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. But think ahead: if you plan rapid growth a bigger practice might be better.

Who are the practice's other clients? It can be helpful if your accountant has experience of businesses of your size, in your sector or operating in your market.

Who will look after your business on an everyday basis? A good rapport with your accountant is vital. "You might only meet a partner once a year - so you need to find out who you will deal with most of the time and see how you get on with them," says Nick Winters, partner responsible for growing businesses at accountants and business advisers PKF.

Does the accountant understand you? Your accountant is likely to become a long-term business associate. For the relationship to work, they need to show an interest in where your business is now and where it is heading.

How effectively does the practice work? Ask for estimated response times. How long does it take to speak with a partner? Will the practice contact you with, for example, news about tax changes?

What additional services does the practice offer? You might be able to take advantage of services such as information-systems advice or personal-finance guidance.

Does it have any specialisms? If your business is a start-up, deals internationally, is planning a stock-market listing or has other special needs, ensure the practice has the necessary expertise.

How does the accountant charge? Hourly fees are most common but a fixed fee for the first 12 months can often be arranged.

Can you speak to other clients? An accountant should be happy to put you in touch with other customers.

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